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The Top 10 Litigation Articles of 2018

It's my eighth year writing an end-of-year top-10 style article. That feels pretty great because in that time, we have published more than 600 articles and A2L's Litigation Consulting Report blog has been visited one million times. Wow, right?

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A couple of years ago, I was involved in running a genetics conference focused on using genetics as a defense tactic in civil cases, much in the way that DNA evidence is used in criminal cases. I've been working with experts in this field ever since. A few months back, I wrote an article about the clever use by plaintiffs of litigation graphics and genetics in the baby powder (talc) cases (see Some Lessons for Defendants From the Talc Liability Trials), including a $4 billion verdict against a major talc manufacturer. When I write about various types of cases, I often hear from lawyers who handle the types of cases I write about. On my post on the use of genetics evidence in the talc litigation, how many talc defense lawyers do you think I heard from? If you guessed zero, you'd be exactly right. And that's a problem. Not ready to accept that this is a problem for defendants? Then I will ask whether the plaintiffs’ talc bar was similarly unresponsive. As you can probably guess from the way I posed the question, the answer is no. Out of discretion, I won't say exactly who or how many responded, but it was more than zero. Even though there is more to gain for the defense bar from understanding and leveraging these critical tools, it’s the plaintiffs’ lawyers who are most active in the field, striving to improve their approach. From the defense bar — crickets. And that's the problem I'm seeing in the way some of these talc cases are being defended. Defense counsel appear to be playing defense – and completely ignoring the key point that the best defense in litigation is a good offense. These verdicts are having an impact on the companies involved. Last Friday, on December 14, 2018, shares of Johnson & Johnson fell 10 percent and were set to have their largest percentage drop in more than 16 years, after Reuters reported that the company knew for decades that there was some asbestos in its baby powder. Yesterday, December 18, 2018, Johnson and Johnson ran the full page ad seen here in an attempt to manage this growing crisis. For trial lawyers and litigation consulting firms like ours, these asbestos allegations are not new or surprising. It's what plaintiff's have alleged recently and have used to prevail in these cases. The surprising thing in these cases is defense counsel's unnecessarily passive approach. When products are accused of causing harm, defense lawyers often choose one of the following defense strategies: Assert the harm was caused by something else but we don’t know what (the “idiopathic” defense) Assert the harm was caused by something else and we know exactly what. Typically, most defendants have chosen the ‘we don’t know what other thing caused it’ strategy because it avoids giving up the favorable allocation of the burden of proof and assuming the very specific (and often difficult) burden of proving an alternative cause – much as criminal defendants take advantage of the “beyond a reasonable doubt” standard. Not surprisingly, this argument generally falls flat. Recently, the plaintiffs’ bar won a multi-billion-dollar verdict by asserting that there is asbestos in talc and that it causes mesothelioma. This is highly improbable for several logical reasons — but jurors tend to follow emotion first and logic second when deliberating. If asbestos is present in baby powder at all, it would be in such small amounts that one could not reasonably connect mesothelioma to it. If defense counsel asserts (as they have been) that the mesothelioma was caused by some other identified source of asbestos, and not by talc, that leaves jurors without the necessary tools to argue for a defense verdict during deliberations. So, what if defense counsel could instead prove that the plaintiff’s mesothelioma was caused by something other than asbestos in baby powder? Something identifiable, measurable, and specific. Using modern genetics, this is now possible. And it is a major sea change.

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We have written many times about what separates good trial teams from world-class trial teams. One article collectively written by many people inside and outside of A2L stands out to me as seminal. It can be found here: 10 Criteria that Define Great Trial Teams If I could have all trial lawyers read only one of our articles, it would be this one. It is one of more than 600 on our site, but it succinctly reflects our leadership's best thinking, and it best summarizes what most of the other 599+ articles say. This simple list of 10 criteria, especially when used as a trial team self-assessment tool, is a thing of magic. In arriving at this deceptively simple list, we captured hundreds of years of trial experience. At first, we identified 50 trial team traits that set the great ones apart from the ordinary (you can see these in this article). When we reduced these 50 traits to 10 key criteria, I think we revealed the secret ingredients of a successful trial team. And in the two years since that was published, I have not seen any reason to revise the criteria. In fact, I’ve seen this list turned assessment tool perform consistently: Trial teams with low scores lose cases; trial teams with high scores win cases. Nowhere on this list do we explicitly use the term groupthink, but our thoughts on the subject are certainly implied through our selection of these 10 traits. First, what is groupthink? Wikipedia says: “Groupthink is a psychological phenomenon that occurs within a group of people in which the desire for harmony or conformity in the group results in an irrational or dysfunctional decision-making outcome. Group members try to minimize conflict and reach a consensus decision without critical evaluation of alternative viewpoints by actively suppressing dissenting viewpoints, and by isolating themselves from outside influences.” During trial preparation, members of a trial team can easily put not wanting to be wrong or different ahead of challenging a group decision. We have written about trial teams becoming dysfunctional under severe stress several times before in articles like: 5 Signs of a Dysfunctional Trial Team (and What to Do About It) When a Good Trial Team Goes Bad: The Psychology of Team Anxiety Groupthink is a little different than the nearly complete group breakdowns described in these articles, however. It's a little more subtle and not quite as nightmarish. Still, groupthink can derail a case -- and it often does. Although groupthink can raise its head at any time, we often see it emerge when a trial team is evaluating an opening PowerPoint deck under development, particularly if there are more than five people doing the evaluating. Members of the team will avoid challenging everything, including the specific slides, the order the story is told in, and what not to say during opening. Instead, they will give the appearance of agreement by staying silent. This is groupthink and it does not help win cases. It does the opposite. Here are nine ideas for solving these problems in a trial team. Get the “buts” out of the room: This is an expression we use at A2L. When you are doing creative work, nothing shuts down the creative mind more than someone who jumps in to say why something won't work. These statements usually start with the word “but.” See, Dealing With That ‘Bad Apple’ on Your Trial Team. Establish rules for your trial team meetings: Here are two we often use: silence is acceptance, and no spectators allowed. Ask your litigation graphics team for variations to stimulate thinking. Looking at one litigation graphic may generate some discussion, but looking at two variations guarantees it. Ask for this from your provider. See, 10 Reasons The Litigation Graphics You DO NOT Use Are Important.

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Because (apparently), if we only had 15 more minutes, we could all save 15% or more on car insurance, GEICO has run a series of amusing TV commercials that imagine surreal sources of wasted time, including a Pictionary-playing sloth, Emperor penguins betrayed by faulty GPS, and an interstellar commander who loses his spaceship’s keys in the midst of an alien attack.

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Roughly half of our business involves the creation of PowerPoint presentations for opening statements, closing arguments and expert witnesses. To create these presentations, our litigation consultants, typically seasoned trial lawyers and communications experts, work with our creative staff to turn the trial strategy into presentations that will motivate decisionmakers to make the “right” decisions. In a trial with millions or billions at stake, our final draft for an opening is typically version 30 or higher — and I've seen version 80 in a very large trial. Why so many versions? This is the result of what great trial lawyers do: They work with our team and iterate until perfection is achieved. However, every presentation starts with a first draft, and after three decades in this industry, I can say that a first draft sets the tone for the entire engagement. Handle it well, and trust is formed and there is a nice creative arc free from anxiety. Handle the rollout of the first draft wrong, and trust never kicks in, micromanagement dominates, and the deck becomes a “horse designed by committee.” So what’s the magic to the rollout of a first draft?

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I've written about people who present well using PowerPoint many times before. Some of those articles include: President Obama: Presentation Graphics: Why The President Is Better Than You Law Professor Lawrence Lessig: Lawyer Delivers Excellent PowerPoint Presentation Dan Pink: Dan Pink, Pixar, and Storytelling for the Courtroom Nancy Duarte: Litigators Can Learn a Lot About Trial Presentation from Nancy Duarte Scott Harrison: Every Litigator Should Watch Scott Harrison Deliver This Presentation Me: 21 Steps I Took For Great Public Speaking Results Each of these articles offered some useful lessons both in designing good trial presentations and in the art of presentation. Yesterday, the world saw one of the great PowerPoint presentations of all time. If it were given in a courtroom, this presentation would be in the top one percent of courtroom presentations (not for beauty but for effectiveness). However, this presentation was not in a courtroom at all. Still, which famed trial lawyer do you imagine gave this presentation? As the title suggests, it wasn’t a trial lawyer at all. The presentation was delivered by Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.  If you don't agree with the man or the content, put aside your politics and learn from the presentation. Every trial lawyer should do AT LEAST this well in the courtroom. There are few excuses not to, and every client should demand a performance at this level. If you have (or are) a client who understands the outsized value of investing in the most critical presentations of your case, our team can get you to this level. Every time. This is exactly the kind of work we do with the world's top trial lawyers every day. Watch all or some of Prime Minister Netanyahu's presentation and read my commentary on it below to understand why this presentation is so effective and how any trial lawyer can learn from it. The list of things done right in this presentation is very long. Let's look at a handful, and I will link back to an article where we made these recommendations. Each of these underlying teachings is a technique that our litigation consultants use to help coach trial lawyers and maximize their chance of winning.  He looks the part: 10 Things Litigators Can Learn From Newscasters He chose the right tie: Litigation Graphics, Psychology and Color Meaning He delivers on all five of these promises: 5 Things Every Jury Needs From You He establishes a clear narrative and drama early: Are You Smarter Than a Soap Opera Writer? He uses an immersive style: New Study: A Graphically Immersive Trial Presentation Works Best He uses surprise to engage and persuade: Could Surprise Be One of Your Best Visual Persuasion Tools? Persuasive images are used immediately: Persuasive Graphics: How Pictures Are Increasingly Influencing You The use of deposition-like video is brilliant for setting the stage: 6 Tips for Effectively Using Video Depositions at Trial He presents in a modern 16x9 format (like an HDTV not an old tube TV): Free Webinar: PowerPoint Litigation Graphics - Winning by Design™ He does not talk over the messages: 12 Ways to SUCCESSFULLY Combine Oral and Visual Presentations Captioning is well handled on videos: 6 Tips for Effectively Using Video Depositions at Trial He is very practiced: The Magic of a 30:1 Presentation Preparation Ratio The core opening introductory message is clear and compelling: How to Structure Your Next Speech, Opening Statement or Presentation Netanyahu used a hot seater: What a Great “Hot Seat Operator” Can Add to a Trial Team The theatrics in the form of the binders and the CDs are just brilliant: Using Scale Models as Demonstrative Evidence - a Winning Trial Tactic The level of preparation is clear and is what is expected of elite presenters - even by juries: Practice, Say Jury Consultants, is Why Movie Lawyers Perform So Well The hand gestures are well done: 5 Things TED Talks Can Teach Us About Opening Statements The call outs are simple and excellent: 3 Styles of Document Call-outs Used at Trial The translating of scale and size into terms people understand is clear and convincing: 6 Ways to Convey Size and Scale to a Jury You don't have to read Farsi to understand the nuclear materials, he says: Your Trial Presentation Must Answer: Why Are You Telling Me That? He makes limited use of bullet points: 12 Reasons Bullet Points Are Bad (in Trial Graphics or Anywhere) He organizes his message into five points and enumerates on the slides: Litigation Graphics: The Power of Checklist Trial Exhibits He uses limited text on slides throughout the presentation!: How Much Text on a PowerPoint Slide is Too Much? His slides are clean, uncluttered and generally have a single message: 12 Ways to Eliminate "But I Need Everything On That PowerPoint Slide" He includes animated graphics: 16 PowerPoint Litigation Graphics You Won't Believe Are PowerPoint He contrasts what the Iranians said vs. the reality and deploys other credibility attacks in one evidence-backed attack after another: Like It or Not: Likability Counts for Credibility in the Courtroom He tells you what to conclude: Your Trial Presentation Must Answer: Why Are You Telling Me That? He repeats (language and video) for effect and clarity: A Surprising New Reason to Repeat Yourself at Trial His use of storytelling throughout the presentation is excellent: 5 Ways to Maximize Persuasion During Opening Statements - Part 2 He makes NONE of the 12 mistakes in this article: The 12 Worst PowerPoint Mistakes Litigators Make He has been well coached by presentation consultants like us: Your Coach Is Not Better Than You – in the Courtroom or Elsewhere Nothing about this PowerPoint presentation is particularly sophisticated. In fact, there are many things that could be done to make it considerably better and more persuasive. However, above all else, it shows what a well-practiced presenter can do. VERY few trial lawyers prepare to the point where they can present at this level and if they would work more closely with elite litigation consultants, whether A2L's litigation consultants (pdf) or others, they could do even better than Benjamin Netanyahu. Here's the ultimate takeaway: it's not some innate gift that helps a presenter be world-class. Instead, it's the humility that allows someone to practice over and over getting these critical presentations just right that makes anyone appear to be world-class.

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I have the privilege of working on a regular basis with many of the top trial lawyers in the nation, and they are an impressive bunch. In addition to their knowledge of the law, their capacity for hard work, and their practiced trial skills, they tend to carry an unquantifiable charisma. The great trial lawyer is a person who, when he or she enters a room, knows how to command the room. And although they are not arrogant, they do know that they have that ability and that they can turn it on or off. This means that the great trial lawyers can develop an ineffable rapport with jurors, a connection that is hard to explain and remarkable to see in action. Trial consultants are well advised to leave well enough alone, to “do no harm” when that connection is clearly operational; their job then is to simply sit back and observe this meeting of the minds and hope it will carry them on to victory. But these top trial lawyers, who have developed great sensitivity to issues of rapport and communication, often voice a concern to me. The concern is that they may be using some PowerPoint slides, say to highlight the themes of an opening statement, and then they wish to move on to a point that is not on the slides. But the jurors, they point out, are still staring at that screen, and the personal connection, instantly made, will instantly be lost. Should the jurors be looking at the screen or continuing their focus on the lawyer? It must be noted that the great trial lawyer knows not to make his or her case strictly via PowerPoint and knows how important it is to limit the use of this seductive trial technique. Still, there is a place for PowerPoint at trial and thus a corresponding concern. The trial lawyers’ concern is, fortunately, overblown and easily remedied. The remarkably simple solution is to press the “B” key on the computer keyboard. In PowerPoint, this instantly makes the screen go black, thus removing all competition for the jurors’ attention. Just learn to switch fluidly back and forth, using that key. This will not only preserve the crucial emotional connection between lawyer and jury; it will also lay the groundwork for the lawyer to assume the role in the jurors’ minds of trusted counselor and friend, someone who can make sense of all the evidence and tell a convincing story that puts it all together. I wish all trial lawyers’ dilemmas were so easily resolved. Other A2L Consulting free resources related to PowerPoint, connecting with jurors, and what makes a great trial lawyer include: 10 Criteria that Define Great Trial Teams 16 PowerPoint Litigation Graphics You Won't Believe Are PowerPoint The 12 Worst PowerPoint Mistakes Litigators Make Like It or Not: Likability Counts for Credibility in the Courtroom How Many PowerPoint Slides Should You Use in a Typical Trial? The Redundancy Effect, PowerPoint and Legal Graphics 12 Things About PowerPoint You Probably Never Knew How to Make PowerPoint Trial Timelines Feel More Like a Long Document New Webinar - PowerPoint Litigation Graphics - Winning by Design Lawyer Delivers Excellent PowerPoint Presentation Why Reading Your Litigation PowerPoint Slides Hurts Jurors How Much Text on a PowerPoint Slide is Too Much? 12 Ways to Eliminate "But I Need Everything On That PowerPoint Slide" Do Professionally Designed PowerPoint Slides Get Better Results? 12 Reasons Bullet Points Are Bad (in Trial Graphics or Anywhere) 14 Tips for Delivering a Great Board Meeting Presentation 5 Things Every Jury Needs From You Jury Selection and Voir Dire: Don't Ask, Don't Know 10 Things Every Mock Jury Ever Has Said Your Trial Presentation Must Answer: Why Are You Telling Me That?

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Litigation Graphics in Criminal Cases

Most of the work that a trial consulting firm like A2L does for its clients takes place in civil cases. However, criminal cases also present unique challenges for trial lawyers and for trial consultants, and some of our most fascinating cases over the years have been criminal cases.

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